Kino School Mt. Lemmon Adventure

On September 18th, 2019, 6 students from Kino School embarked on an adventure into the Santa Catalina Mountains to explore the mixed coniferous forests that surround Sunset Trail. This is the 1st of 5 expeditions which intends to provide students with the experience and understanding of Sonoran Desert ecology. On this adventure, we explored biomes and Sky Islands, riparian areas, micro-ecosystems, tree ecology, and so much more. It was an amazing day outdoors for this expedition, one that would prove to surprise us all.

When we arrived, we were greeted with the sweet smell of pine trees, and the relief of pine needle shade. We found our way down a small slope to a little clearing, where a small stand of ponderosa pine trees stood tall in a circle. It was there that we gathered and began our introductions.  Students took turns describing why they chose to be on these expeditions, what their intentions for the day were, and last but not least, their names. This was important because it helped them, and us, gain clarity for future expeditions. We discussed outdoor learning methods, and the appropriate ways to listen and learn from an educator outdoors. Finally, we finished our introductory conversation by discussing safety and risk, making sure everyone was prepared for the day.   

After our introductions, we moved down a narrow path and happened upon a huge Douglas-fir pine tree. This gave us the perfect opportunity to teach about habitats within micro-ecosystems. The trees ancient roots flooded the ground next to the creek that followed the trail. The roots providing the creek banks with soil stability, withstanding the water from the flowing creek. As the lesson continued, the students were fascinated when we described the layers of habitat that the tree roots provided under our feet. Animals such as ants, tarantulas, snakes, termites, worms, and many more. Vertically, spiders obtain their meals and feast upon different types of insects by creating webbed nets that catch and trap prey that fall while climbing the tall tree trunk. 

After some time hiking, we found ourselves entering a gorgeous clearing with smooth granite rock under our feet. The creek has carved the rock, creating a series of waterfalls and pools that descended into a canyon ahead. This is where we decided to eat lunch. Once the students were finished, we scrambled down the rock to get a closer look at the slow-moving pools of cool creek water. Students had to navigate across a slippery stream of water in order to get a good view into a deep pool. It was here that I instructed everyone to peer in. The water was full of tadpoles, which resembled frogs more than tadpoles. On the surface near the banks were dozens of Gerridae who seemed to defy physics by standing on the surface of the water without sinking. Students also saw amazing animals such as backswimmers, giant water bugs, whirligig beetles, and horsehair worms. This was a great example of micro-ecosystems, and how diverse even the smallest pools of water can be. Students also witnessed the soil and vegetation characteristics from the presence of water in that area.

Eventually, it was time to head back. We traced our footsteps along the peaceful trail of Sunset Trail and decided to do so in silence. We gained a new perspective by observing the different birds and wildlife, the rocky terrain, and plant life, only hearing the sounds of the forest and our footsteps. Then we circled up in a nice grassy clearing and discussed what we enjoyed, what we learned, and what we wanted to do for next time. After this we made it to the van and drove back down Mt. Lemmon to Kino school, arriving with new knowledge of the outdoors. It was a perfect day for exploration and learning.